Voice and Reason

Is it unfair that many very good photographers don’t get much visibility or recognition?


I see complaints about it regularly on social media. From photographers with a ‘small’ following that realize it’s very hard to become famous. And from photographers with a large following complaining that they don’t get as many likes as they used too, and assuming that the algorithm is somehow biased against them.


I think that many of us don’t become better photographers is because we don’t have a reason. Or we don’t have enough of a reason. The only ‘why’ behind an image is that it’s visually appealing or looked cool or interesting. Which is fine. And I often include myself in this. Or the reason for the photograph is that it’s for social media. Which kind of makes the photography about photography, and I don’t think that’s ever the best kind.


But the best photographers, the most interesting photographers, know why. There are reasons for their choices, the location, the subject matter, maybe even the gear they use on a particular day. No always, but they often have a purpose and know what they’re trying to get across to their audience.


Was it Dorothea Lange that first spoke about a ‘Point of Departure’. Which I’ve always thought was a strange phrase, but she was talking about having a cohesive theme or concept in mind. Ralph Gibson, who worked with her, talks about his Point of Departure becoming the idea of dreams and how to visually represent scenes that could have been from his dreams.


Campbell Walker (Struthless) talks about learning from the artist Mark Schattner, telling him that his problem was trying to do lots of different things. That all he was doing was ‘laying a single brick for a million different houses hoping that it would one day become a mansion’. You can hear the full story here: The Drawing Advice that Changed My Life.


There still a time to experiment and diversify and try new things, but there’s also real power and impact in knowing what we’re about and what our message should be. We might want to change the world. We might just want to make a living from what we‘re making, or tell people about something we love or something we’ve discovered or tell someone’s story that hasn’t been heard yet.


It’s tough to find. I think a lot of us think that we don’t have anything valuable to say. And yet, given the chance with friends or family, we still like to talk a lot more than we like to listen. We definitely have a voice and like to use it. The challenge I think is to find a way to translate what matters most to us into a something that might matter to someone else too.




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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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